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Helping Hands: A lead advocate helps students harness STEM resources

By Rachel Myers

2022-2023 Lead Advocate Cecilie Prine is pictured with her middle school students outside during a field trip.
Wyoming teacher Cecilie Prine is part of the Society for Science's Lead Advocate Program. Courtesy of Cecilie Prine

With more than 22 years of teaching experience, seventh grade science teacher Cecilie Prine knows what it takes to engage students in STEM and get creative in the classroom. When COVID shifted everything into a virtual space, Cecilie used her imagination to ensure her students continued to find success and stay positive during challenging times.

Cecilie joined the Society for Science Advocate Program after a science fair mentor retired. Her colleague had been involved with the middle school’s science program. Cecilie is a third-year participant in the Advocate Program. In her current role as a Lead Advocate, she is in charge of leading and supporting a cohort of other Advocates. Lead Advocates receive training and year-round support to provide STEM opportunities for students traditionally underrepresented in science research competitions. In addition to the training and support, Lead Advocates also receive a stipend and a paid trip to Washington, D.C. to attend an Advocate Training Institute where they meet other educators at a weekend-long convening.

“I feel very fortunate to be a Lead Advocate. The Society for Science Advocate Program has been such a positive influence in our science fair, and I am thankful to be able to contribute. I have learned so much from my cohorts and fellow Lead Advocates,” says Cecilie. Thanks to fresh ideas and support from her Advocate cohort, she has been able to help students improve their research projects, answer logistical questions about entering science fairs and see their success firsthand.

For student Shanti Junker, Cecilie’s mentorship and guidance was invaluable. She helped Shanti develop a scientific research project that was later entered into a science fair. Shanti completed her research on regenerative agriculture and its effect on the soil microbiome and carbon sequestration in the seventh  grade.

Student Shanti Junker pursued STEM research and entered a science competition with guidance from Society Lead Advocate Cecilie Prine.
Student Shanti Junker collects cow manure samples for her research project. Courtesy of Shanti Junker

“Ms. Prine was an essential mentor for me while completing my project. She helped point me towards resources and motivate me to get the project done. She also helped proofread my work. Without her, I would not have been able to complete my seventh and eighth grade projects. She was always willing to help and answer questions I had,” shared Shanti.

Shanti competed in the virtual Wyoming State Science Fair in 2021, taking first place in the Earth and Environmental Sciences category. Now in her freshman year of high school, Shanti’s goal is to complete a project related to her seventh grade research project. Shanti plans to measure methane emissions in manure from grass-fed cows versus corn-fed cows and determine whether there is a difference in those emissions and the impact on the environment.

Seeing her students find fulfillment, build scientific skillsets and follow lines of questioning that pique their curiosity in hands-on research projects are just some of Cecilie’s main goals as an Advocate.

Cecilie also finds participation in competitions beneficial for her students, saying, “Students not only work through the scientific or engineering methods, but they also learn how to write scientific papers, go through judging interviews, travel to colleges and universities, and network with other students who care about STEM and are changing the world in a positive way,” says Cecilie. “All of these aspects allow students to grow and build confidence. They start to see themselves in these very important roles and places they never imagined they would be.”

Over the last three years, Cecilie has been able to continue and strengthen the STEM club and science fair program at her middle school. With the help of the Advocate Program, she hopes to expand these programs at the high school level, and get more students involved in research. Cecilie expressed how empowering it is to be surrounded by people who believe in the importance of science fair competitions, for all students.

If you are a teacher considering applying to the Society’s Advocate Program but are still undecided, Cecilie wants you to know how supportive the program is, saying, “This program is absolutely top-notch. The people involved really care about the students and the importance of giving them opportunities to compete in science fair competitions. Everyone has been helpful and encouraging over the years, helping me stay motivated and providing me with ideas on how to improve our program during challenging times.”

To learn more about how the Society for Science Advocate Program can support you and your students in pursuing scientific research, you can find more information here. Applications to join the Advocate Program are due on March 5, 2023. Apply today!

Rachel Myers